The ongoing probes of Russian election meddling are roiling Washington, spawning new legal actions — and increasingly, emptying the pockets of the people involved in them.
Becoming ensnared in a federal investigation into the links between Donald Trump‘s presidential campaign and the Kremlin can pose a serious financial threat for those involved at any level.
In an interview with CNBC, former Trump campaign advisor Michael Caputo described the financial strain of being a witness in the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation.
“If you don’t go into a congressional hearing thoroughly prepared, then you should bring a toothbrush, because you’re going to be there a while,” Caputo said in a phone interview.
While his legal fees were cheaper in his home state of New York than they would be in Washington, Caputo still paid about $25,000 per hearing. A good chunk of that fee actually goes toward producing the required documents for investigators. For Caputo, who has known and communicated with some of the central figures in the federal probes for decades, it’s a huge task.
“If I have 800 emails where I mention Trump and Russia in the same email, figuring out which ones are of interest to an investigator is above my pay grade” to sift through alone, Caputo said.
Caputo said he first retained attorneys in March last year, after he was named by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., in congressional testimony as being Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s “image consultant.” He has since filed an ethics complaint against Speier, whom he called “a liar all the way to the cellular level.”
Speier’s office did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
Caputo has only been interviewed by the House committee as a witness, meaning he is not suspected of committing any crimes. He has been tapped to testify before investigators in the Senate, however, and said he expects to be called before special counsel Robert Mueller’s team in the future.
His status as a mere witness is all the more reason to go in prepared through legal counsel — “even if you’re telling a story about ice cream, because these are some of the most irresponsible people on earth,” he said, referring to Congress.
Stanley Twardy Jr., a former U.S. attorney in Connecticut, agreed that preparation is crucial, despite its expense. “You don’t want to say anything false, because you could go from witness” to worse, Twardy said. Becoming a subject or a target in a case will likely exacerbate the time and money involved, he said.
The process of preparing a client for multiple congressional hearings, and possibly a grand jury appearance, is time-consuming and expensive. “Hell, at my rates that’s gonna be close to $100,000,” Twardy said, hinting that the figure would be much higher inside the Washington beltway.
All told, Caputo estimates that his legal fees will total $125,000. But that’s a conservative figure, he said, adding, “If I go to the grand jury” as part of the special counsel’s probe, “it’ll be far more.”
He recently started a crowdfunding page to help pay his legal fees.